Primarch: Jaghatai Khan, Painted by Ibrahem Swaid

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Dios Toros, by John Ashton

Dios Toros

by John Ashton
heresy and heroes

Optarios strode through the smoke towards the sound of the drums. Great blasts sounding in a steady rhythm, pounding in the gloom, punctuated by sickly purple lightning burning up the static in the air. Carros Thrain moved the hulking Paladin knight across the rubble-strewn terrain with all the skill of a veteran pilot, giving the giant machine an unnatural grace.

Great Optarios, most venerable and decorated knight of House Farrin had been entrusted to Thrain ten years ago and the bond that the he shared with the machine spirit was as strong as adamantium. They were so tightly in tune with each other now that their enemies that had heard of them sent only their greatest champions and war machines to meet them, and even those had always been found wanting.

The hunt of champions in this campaign was now over though. A new hunt had begun and within the ruins of a shattered city, beneath the choking, black skies, the noble knight sought the vilest of foes. A treacherous warband had descended on the broken world even while the last battles were being fought, scavenging, pillaging and bringing more ruin to those who had already wept too many tears. House Farrin sought them now because the gabbled rumours from insane survivors of the traitor’s rampage included sightings of a monstrous creation, a fallen knight.

Thrain’s stomach turned at the thought of it. A noble warrior given a noble knight and falling to the whims of the unworthy. It was obscene. Now it stood with ancient traitors. Those who had been given the gift of Godhood thousands of years before, who had walked beside the Emperor himself, may he be honoured, these angels had taken council from daemons and now chose to walk in darkness. He could not understand it and he would not abide it. A knight should never stand against other knights.

Optarios moved swiftly, scanning its sensors across all the land before it, and training its battle cannon on any potential target. The drumming noise, sporadic and abrupt, had been unusual but it had now stopped and an eerie stillness crept through the smoke. Thrain brought his knight to a halt and glared through the smoke. His sensors were struggling to penetrate the static in the air and tiny beads of crackling lightning stroked and licked at his weapons.

Then from nowhere, a burst of cannon fire. It tore into the chain blade of his left arm and punched into the mechanisms that gave it life. A shower of teeth from the weapon fell to the ground, their rattling accompanied by the drumbeat that crashed from the smoke. It took him only a couple of seconds to deftly swing Optarios around and train the battle cannon on the point from which the shots had come, but in the process, a volley of shells loosed the breastplate from the ancient knight and left exposed its workings beneath. With phosphorous-covered rounds leaping from the heavy stubber, tracing a path, the cannon belched two shots in quick succession into the gloom but he heard no impacts. The cannon fire that had ruined his chain blade and hammered across Optarios’ chest had ceased and an eerie silence returned to the smoky world.

Thrain felt something inside of him that he had never known while riding in the saddle of Optarios. He felt fear. He was down a weapon, his armour was broken and he was alone. His sensors had gone haywire in the attack and none of his instruments would stabilise. They lazily groped for accurate readings but would then succumb to some violent fault and veer away again. Meters danced in their housing, and readouts across his computers blurred and buzzed. 

He began to backstep in Optarius, moving the battle cannon from point to point, scanning for any signs of movement. Nothing appeared before him as he moved the knight cautiously back. He felt the rubble beneath the tread of the giant feet, and the thickness of the air that surrounded him. The next thing he felt was the greatest pain he had ever experienced.

It came barrelling from behind him. First, he felt and saw the enormous tendrils wrap themselves like a kraken’s tentacles around the battle cannon, wrenching it upwards and away. The stubber was crushed first and he could feel the enormous barbed things trying to crush the barrel of his main weapon. Already, the metal beneath their grip was starting to corrode and tarnish, weakening it from the inside. He turned to face his assailant but as he did so, a sound erupted from it that sounded like hell incarnate. It was the sound of a thousand screaming mouths, all in discord, all in agony and rapture burning into his mind. It bit through his ears and he felt blood seeping from them as vessels within his mind ruptured. Instinctively he lifted his hands to them to try and keep the enormous noise from from ripping his sanity from him, but in doing this he lost, just for a moment, control of his knight and Thrain felt Optarius, most noble of his household, begin to collapse and topple to the floor. 

It stood over him now. The noise was gone. Replaced by a deafening silence. He stared up at it as it stood, one foot upon the broken chain blade and the other upon Optarius’ torso. In the tendrils of its left arm, it held half of a battle cannon. And then it roared. It bellowed like an ancient beast, its feral call directed at the roiling clouds above it. Then it looked down at him and he saw its eyes. Not the functioning sensors of a knight construct, these were more like the eyes of a feline or reptile creature, black slits surrounded by milky yellow, peaking out from a horned helm with a rictus grin. Its armour was gaudy, loud and covered in patterns that clashed and caused the eyes to water. There were the hides of exotic beasts and foul scriptures and burnished, unnatural metals, all contributing to its sickening visage. To look upon this thing, to stare into those eyes, Thrain realised the truth of it all.

He heard all the little whispers and promises. He heard all the truths and untruths. He listened to futures and pasts and presents and he understood what would become of it all and how he could save himself and pledge his loyalty to a greater mistress. But his loyalty to his House, to the Imperium and to the Emperor never waivered. He did not shout out in defiance of the beast’s promises but he felt as if a conversation had been spoken, though no words had been said. He had declined her, and when the beast realised this, it lifted its cannon and placed it on the exposed chest of great Optarius, almost with tenderness. A single round was loosed, spat into the organs of the machine, detonating deep within it, and in seconds Thrain would feel the warm, wet fire of the warp engulf him and his mount. Before the end came though, he had a moment to look up at the chest plate of his enemy and see the name inscribed there – ‘Dios Toros’. His mind had enough time to process this low gothic as his body began to burn away in ecstasy. God of Bulls…

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